An epiphany

Photo of standing stones (Photo by Simon Hattinga Verschure on Unsplash)

I had an epiphany, at lunch time, about my cur­rent short sto­ry project. I have an end­ing, now, a nasty bul­l’s-eye to aim my nar­ra­tive at.

What’s more, a lot of things I’d already sprin­kled into the sto­ry have come into focus, espe­cial­ly the doc­trine of true names. The pro­tag­o­nist has a solu­tion to his prob­lem, but he’s so des­per­ate to avoid it that he’s unwill­ing to admit it to any­one, even him­self.

I won­der if I knew the end­ing all along, too, and did­n’t want to admit it to myself.

Pho­to by Simon Hat­tin­ga Ver­schure on Unsplash.

Breathing Underwater

Lis­ten­ing to Met­ric’s “Breath­ing Under­wa­ter”, I sud­den­ly real­ized that one of the lines — “I can see the end / But it has­n’t hap­pened yet” — res­onates pret­ty hard with my cur­rent work-in-progress. Like that’s a pret­ty pithy encap­su­la­tion of the entire theme of the sto­ry.

Also, if you haven’t encoun­tered Met­ric before, you should real­ly check them out. I haven’t heard a song from them I haven’t loved.

Logline for the next story

Writer's Tears Irish Whiskey

I’m work­ing away on my library-full-of-self-eras­ing books, and I have a nov­el to fin­ish writ­ing, but I’ve had an idea and I want to pur­sue it soon. (Actu­al­ly, it’s not a new idea; it’s a re-use of a con­cept from one of my nanow­rimo projects.)

The Slow-Motion Apoc­a­lypse” is a “day in the life” por­trait of an aging wiz­ard who hap­pens to be all that’s stand­ing in the way of a nuclear blast oblit­er­at­ing part of Man­hat­tan.

Inter­est­ed?

Subvert all the expectations

Maman, the spider, with Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica behind

I came across this well-worn but still valid piece of writ­ing advice on Twit­ter yes­ter­day:

If you plan on sub­vert­ing [expec­ta­tions], you need to sub­vert with the goal of some­thing BETTER.

And now today, on CBC’s Sun­day Edi­tion, they’re talk­ing about Robert Mun­sch’s game-chang­ing book The Paper Bag Princess, which came out in that long-ago era of 1980 and sub­vert­ed all the expec­ta­tions about what a fairy tale should be.

I remem­ber dis­cov­er­ing (or per­haps re-dis­cov­er­ing) The Paper Bag Princess in my twen­ties. As a young man who had heard a mil­lion fairy tales with the “and then they got mar­ried” hap­pi­ly-ever-after end­ing, it was a very dif­fer­ent end­ing than I was expect­ing: the princess does­n’t mar­ry the prince, not even after res­cu­ing him from the drag­on.

It was a dif­fer­ent kind of end­ing, but still a hap­py end­ing. Maybe not so hap­py for the prince, but then he did noth­ing to earn a hap­py end­ing. It sub­vert­ed the trope and made a new, bet­ter thing from it.

So go: sub­vert the expec­ta­tions. Sub­vert all the expec­ta­tions. Make it bet­ter.

Head­er image: Maman, across the street from Notre-Dame Cathe­dral Basil­i­ca, in Ottawa.

Pitching Agents & Publishers

fountain pen on notepad

Yes­ter­day I went to a ses­sion put on by Dias­po­ra Dia­logue on the top­ic of pitch­ing your work to agents and pub­lish­ers.

I had assumed that the for­mat would be a pre­sen­ta­tion style, but when I arrived I dis­cov­ered it was more a round table for­mat, with the four agents and pub­lish­ers answer­ing ques­tions from the room.

I did­n’t have any spe­cif­ic ques­tions ready, but that was okay, because the oth­ers in the room asked about sev­er­al top­ics of inter­est to me.

Tran­scribed below are my notes from the event.

General notes on pitching

  • Your man­u­script (MS) should be as pol­ished as pos­si­ble
  • It’s okay to change from your 1st draft [note: I assume it’s gen­er­al­ly nec­es­sary to change from your 1st draft]
  • It’s bet­ter to have an agent when try­ing to sell a book-length piece

Benefits of having an agent

  • First and fore­most: their con­tact lists
  • Agents will work close­ly with the author, pro­vid­ing anoth­er set of (expert) eyes on a MS
  • the Big 5 pub­lish­ers (Hachette, Harper­Collins, Macmil­lan, Pen­guin Ran­dom House, and Simon and Schus­ter) gen­er­al­ly require agent­ed sub­mis­sions
  • Agents will know what the edi­tors at the var­i­ous pub­lish­ers are look­ing for; those edi­tors trust the agents
  • Some pub­lish­ers (usu­al­ly small press­es) will accept una­gent­ed sub­mis­sions
  • Agents are also good at read­ing con­tracts for the author [the cur­rent brouha­ha sur­round­ing ChiZine Press was men­tioned]
  • Agents can be “author’s ther­a­pists” and will go to bat for their authors
  • Agents are also able to bro­ker inter­na­tion­al sales

What will help with pitching & proposals?

  • Most impor­tant: the con­tents of the MS
  • Also impor­tant: MS comps (ie, com­par­a­tive titles; titles you hope to be com­pared to)
  • Pub­li­ca­tions in the short sto­ry mar­kets can help, because they offer a track record
  • Know your book
  • Know the pub­lish­ers or agents you’re pitch­ing to (do your research; have names; or at the very least don’t use “Dear Sirs” in your cor­re­spon­dence)
  • Bio: the more your work has been pub­lished, the bet­ter
  • Book descrip­tion: think in terms of jack­et copy (ie, one page at most)
  • Don’t be afraid to name-drop your friends in the indus­try, espe­cial­ly if they’re will­ing to blurb for you
  • Don’t over­sell your book (it’s not, eg, “more con­tro­ver­sial than the Bible”)
  • Ensure that you address the cor­rect per­son in your pitch
  • Aim for 85,00090,000 words for a 1st MS [note: it was­n’t clear if this was a gen­er­al rule or a lit-fic guide­line; I’ve heard 90,000120,000 for spec fic]

How important is an author’s “platform”?

  • By “plat­form” we mean social media pres­ence and web­site
  • Con­sen­sus: if it’s not some­thing you’re good at, or not some­thing you’re inter­est­ed in, then don’t do it
  • Goodreads: meh (no agent or pub­lish­er present felt that an author’s Goodreads pres­ence would sway them one way or the oth­er)

What are agents looking for?

  • You don’t need to be pre­vi­ous­ly pub­lished to get an agent
  • Agents look for unique voice: ener­getic and entic­ing

How long does the process take?

  • Gen­er­al­ly it’s at least 1½ years from pitch to books on shelves, but can be longer

Some themes & references

Aurora Borealis at Minnedosa, MB

Here’s an incom­plete list of the themes and ref­er­ences that I’m con­scious­ly includ­ing in my new short sto­ry, “Sum­mer­time in the Void” (1st draft com­plete, work­ing on the 2nd draft):

The best bad news

fountain pen on notepad

I recent­ly had a look at my sub­mis­sions on The Sub­mis­sions Grinder, and noticed that I’d sent “Me and the Bee” to two mar­kets over a year ago, with no updates. I emailed the both of them, and one of them replied to me:

Our edi­to­r­i­al team real­ly enjoyed your sto­ry, and we were hold­ing onto it for a while as we fig­ured out our plans for our next issue. Unfor­tu­nate­ly we’re now on hia­tus as we have decid­ed to restruc­ture our jour­nal. I’m sor­ry again for this dis­ap­point­ing news, but I think your sto­ry is very strong and has a good chance of being accept­ed else­where.

So… it’s not accept­ed, but it almost was, I guess. So close.

Pho­to by Aaron Bur­den on Unsplash.

Tonight’s writing

The river

I ham­mered out 1,100 words, give or take, in “Sum­mer­time in the Void”, which is a new short sto­ry about a man left behind by the Sin­gu­lar­i­ty.

Here’s a sam­ple, but be kind, it’s first draft mate­r­i­al:

His dad, not long before he left, had told John that you can’t ever cross the same riv­er twice, and John had asked why not and his dad had just smiled and told him “You’re smart, fig­ure it out.”

Because the water’s nev­er the same, he decid­ed. Some­times it’s swift and deep, and sometimes—like now, after a long, hot, dry summer—it was shal­low, lazy, and mud­dy.

I’ve got about 3,900 more words to make this into a coher­ent sto­ry. I think I can make it work.